7 Steps to Running a Successful Virtual Presentation
Prepare for Success so Your Audience will Love You.
Remember that kick-ass webinar you went to? The one that left you feeling inspired to go out and conquer your life and the world? No? You don't?
Yeah, me neither.
But I know they exist. And, I know the positive feedback I get from my virtual presentations. I know that's why after I do a presentation, I always get people from the audience who want me to do a workshop for their teams or companies. Do I have a fancy slide presentation? No. Do I have a special captivating virtual background? No. Have I won any top speaker awards? No.
Any event that leaves you inspired and motivated is an event the speaker spent time preparing for . . .and it shows.
This is the kind of speaker you want to be when you deliver your message.
You don’t want to be the unprepared hotshot who rambles all over the place and then rattles on for 20 minutes over the scheduled time. You don’t want to leave your audience confused or angry or thinking you just wasted their time. Because we’ve all left a webinar wondering how someone so terrible could possibly get paid for what you just sat through. #thatsucks
If you’re wondering how you can prepare your virtual presentation so that people want to show up and invest their time in you, then listen up.
And if you have dreams of making a big impact and changing the world for the better, then definitely read on!
What is your Why?
Whether you are a seasoned speaker or a new one, the first question you should be asking yourself is if your message should even be a presentation. What do you have to say that is so important? And who is it serving? This is important stuff. You have to know why you’re doing it and what value it’s bringing into the lives of others first. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of being the next boring webinar that a disappointed audience is sitting through. Don’t. Do. That.
Who is your Audience?
Now that you know why your message needs to be shared and are jazzed to get out there and inspire, let’s talk about who your audience is. Knowing your target audience is huge! Another reason some webinars are so draining is that the message might not be right or necessary for the group you’re in front of. Be sure to get specific on who this message is for. I always have a conversation with the team that's hosting me to find out who is participating. Sometimes it's very congruent: members of the management team. Other times it's across the board: new recruits in their 20s through managers in their 60s. I get clear on their commonalities and concerns so I can share appropriate examples and meet them where they are.
With those two biggies out of the way, you are now ready to create your presentation.
Here are my 7 steps to running a successful virtual presentation:
1. Show Yourself
We are desperate for real human contact. You must find a way to connect with your audience fast. Otherwise, people just tune out. We’ve spent the last year staring at a screen where the closest we get to making eye contact is disturbed by a constant struggle to look at someone or gaze into a camera. Kind of a tough barrier.
This is why I rarely use slides. It's me on camera with a whiteboard and markers where I do in-the-moment graphics.
Personal stories are also a great way to connect as long as it’s relevant to your topic. Nobody cares about your recent trip to Hawaii, unless it’s somehow related to the conversation and in turn, to them. Only do this if it feels authentic. You might feel better suited to sharing a client success story, which really is a great way to humblebrag.
It’s so important that people get a sense of who is talking.
When I do webinars as a Tiny Habits® Certified coach, I often share my experience of waking up and doing what BJ Fogg calls “The Maui Habit” the day after I found out about my ex-husband’s passing. It’s a great connector piece for me because it’s personal and reminds me and my audience that I, too, am doing the work and it’s not always easy.
The Maui Habit goes like this:
After I put my feet on the floor in the morning, I will say, “It’s going to be a great day.”
Do your best to feel optimistic and positive when doing so. (And if it’s a rough day, you can say: It’s going to be a great day, somehow.)
The other piece to showing up authentically is not trying to be perfect. I struggle with this person inside me who still wants to be perfect.
“Hello! I’m human”
My teen and I were watching Shrill. One of the main characters wrote an article titled: Hello, I’m Fat. In the show, the article blew up the internet because it was so real, honest and relatable. So push that idea of perfect out and show up as the imperfect being you are. #trustmethisworks
The truth is people want to work with me because I’m human in a very real way. People connect with that and I connect with them.
Here’s some extra credit for you high achievers out there. Up your camera game. Get a camera that is clear, close, and personal. One that allows you to feel more intimate with your audience. And enough with the Zoom backgrounds that makes parts of you disappear. It’s weird, and we know you’re not on that beach, why is that appropriate?
Stage your background. If you are talking about a product, a guide or book, have it on display. Have an easel or whiteboard if you plan on writing things. Prepare your space so you are well lit and so your cat (as cute as she is) doesn’t make an appearance or cause a distraction.
In public speaking, signposts are short statements that tell your audience exactly what you will be covering during the webinar. Like an itinerary, they lay out for your audience where you will be taking them and how you will get there.
There’s a basic three-part mantra in public speaking:
Tell them what you’re going to tell them
Tell them what you told them
Signposts are part of this. As you move through your webinar you will use the same messaging throughout. By using the same language it’s easy for your audience to follow along and know exactly where you are in the presentation.
Then when it comes time to close out the presentation you can review the signposts again. The audience feels led and cared for and it builds trust and confidence in you as a speaker. If you’ve ever felt confused by a speaker or tried to take notes, but wound up with a mess, it’s likely the speaker didn’t signpost and/or use the three-part mantra.
Doing this also helps keep you on task. It’s so easy when you’re passionate about a topic to get off track. Signposts help you stay the course. Clear messaging is vital if you want the information to stick.
3. The Power of Pause
We’ve all heard the phrase Silence is Golden, but it can be damn hard. Especially if you are leading a webinar. You’re not really getting the energy of the room so it’s extra important to create and hold space for your audience.
No one likes to be talked at for an hour.
Give your audience something to do that requires them to think and have them write it down.
Do this with intention and do this in a purposeful way. Make it meaningful. Give them time to do the exercise. Like 2 to 3 minutes. And hold space for them while they work. Stay on screen and just be present with your audience. Set a timer and give them time checks and encouragement along the way.
This allows a few things to happen:
It gives people time and space in the moment to do the work so they don’t have to go back and do it later. They won’t.
It actually gives them a break to process, integrate and digest the information which puts them a few steps closer to implementation.
It frees up people's energy. Because you took time to allow them to do the work they are more prepared to take action once the presentation is over. This is what you want for them, don’t you?
When I’m guiding a Tiny Habits webinar, I give the audience time to write down a list of habits they want to create. It’s the first step in getting their brain engaged in our conversation.
After I assign this task, I hold space on screen and just keep my mouth closed for a couple of minutes so they can do the work. (People who know me find it fascinating I can keep quiet for so long!)
Once you’ve shown them you are offering them time, they will dive in without feeling rushed. Most participants are appreciative of the time, space and permission to take action and accomplish the task during the presentation.
There is power in the pause for you and your participants and it actually allows you to deliver value beyond the information you are sharing.
4. Engage Your Audience
Most importantly, look at the camera. If you don’t know if you’re looking at the camera or not, do a test with a friend. Then set up pictures of people you love (or at least people you’re not embarrassed to speak in front of) right where you should be looking.
Next, encourage your audience to use the chat to share their answer to specific questions. You will be able to give verbal feedback and they might learn from one another. I often ask participants to put their habits in the chat. Many times, I’ve seen habits that I’d even like to create! Commenting positively will encourage them to share. Even pointing out something that’s not quite right and how to make it better will make people feel seen and heard. I find it helpful to connect with the hosts and review how the session will go. Have someone on their team focus on themes in the chat and conversationally ask you to address them. This frees you to focus on what you’re sharing and also helps create a flow.
Another way to engage is to divide participants into break-out groups and have them teach back essential concepts. When people teach others what they just learned they have better memory and understanding of it.
For Tiny Habits, I might teach the audience the Fogg Behavior Model and then have them teach it to each other in a breakout group. You can also find something you're presenting and make it relevant. Ask open-ended questions and have them engage in small groups. Breakout rooms are best in longer presentations.
Most importantly, make sure that you are changing up the form of engagement every 3 to 4 minutes so your pacing and flow are interesting and fun.
5. Less is More
We are bombarded by information every day wherever we go. Your webinar doesn’t have to feel like that. While you have the best intentions to be of service to your audience, they aren’t served by a fire-hose of information.
If you can give people the basics and allow them to absorb and implement them, they will do better than being blasted with all the details and then left to their own devices. If you were serving them in a restaurant, you’d want them to have a delightful meal and want to come back. You wouldn’t want them to have to eat everything on the menu and leave stuffed and uncomfortable or leave with a truckload of leftovers they couldn't possibly eat before they went bad.
Typically you’re invited to speak on a subject in which you have knowledge mastery. And you should if you’re presenting it to others, but that doesn’t mean you need to share all of the information you know in an hour-long discussion. Pick 3 to 5 talking points. Trust your audience to pick up on the missing links.
Ask yourself what is the least amount of information that they need to feel successful.
Ideally, when you do this and do this well, they will come to you with questions if they are interested in diving deeper. This is a good thing. You are prepared with more information but were able to identify and breakdown the key talking points.
6. Plan Your Presentation
This is not the time to wing it. You must be prepared. I know you know what you’re talking about but remember you earn credibility by sticking to the timeline.
Start on time and stay on task. They won’t trust you if you go over time.
There's this idea of thinking the audience is lucky because they paid for an hour and you've talked for 2, but this is wrong. When you go over the time or rush to fit everything in, it shows the audience that you are not prepared and that you don’t value their time.
This can lead to added stress in their life. They have things to do and now you’ve thrown off their entire day, or if they had to leave, they’ve missed valuable information. #inconsiderate
When you take time to plan out a presentation it helps you deliver value. I can deliver value in a 15 minutes consultation or an hour-long webinar, but the depth and breadth of the information will be different.
I always write an outline and practice out loud for myself and to willing friends and associates. I know my talking points, stories and transitions. Make sure to time your presentation at this point so you can make adjustments.
If you’re presenting and you notice you’re running late, you must become a skillful editor and throw stuff out. Know the areas you can nip and tuck as needed so your audience doesn’t suffer. Don’t simply start speaking faster to cram all your material in. It’s incredibly disrespectful to your audience. It basically says: I messed up, but I’m going to make you pay the price by rushing.
In one of the most frustrating webinars I attended, the speaker clearly hadn’t adjusted his 60-minute presentation for the 30-minute time slot. Instead, he spoke more quickly, constantly referenced how much info he had to get through, sped through slides that were each six bullet points deep and went 20 minutes overtime. The worst part was that he was a highly recognized speaker who had actually won awards for public speaking! #yuck
When you plan your presentation and start on time and end on time, you show your participants you respect and value them and that, in turn, builds trust.
7. Recap & Next Steps
This goes right in line with the signpost you created earlier in #2 Signpost. Tell them what you told them. A quick recap of your signposts, like checking off a to-do list.
Now you can close strong and leave your audience on a high note.
This is a great opportunity to praise them for listening and for being willing to grow. Express gratitude towards your host and your audience for showing up when you know they are all busy. Give them simple next steps and make it easy for them to do.
Deliver Value on Time
When you incorporate these 7 steps you are on your way to virtual presentation success. I know you want to offer great value because you are passionate about your topic, but keep it simple. People will reach out if they want to go deeper. Hosts will also refer you and audience members may become your next clients. There are a dearth of speakers who actually do all these things, so if you do, you'll be the shining star everyone wants to have on their virtual stage.